To see the future of motoring, point a flashlight toward electrified and autonomous vehicles (and sometimes a combination of both). But other technologies are being developed under a smaller spotlight. “The Ray” is an 18-mile stretch of west Georgia’s I-85 highway, including the surrounding land and community — and the future of cars is being dreamed up on its pavement.
The Ray was designed to be a “proving ground for the evolving ideas and technologies that will transform the transportation infrastructure of the future.” The team behind it joined forces with numerous companies to create pilot projects to showcase and test on the high-tech road. It counts Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG), the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Hannah Solar, Wattway, The Land Institute, Drawdown, The University of Georgia College of Environment and Design, Resilient Analytics, the Georgia Conservancy, The Ray C. Anderson Foundation, and the Chattahoochee Nature Center among its partners.
Georgia is around the top 10 states in the number of registered electric vehicles, but charging stations are scarce outside metro Atlanta. The state’s first solar-powered PV4EV (photovoltaic for electric vehicle) charging station was installed on The Ray.
Tire pressure is an important factor in fuel efficiency as well as safety. The Ray’s rollover WheelRight Tire Pressure Monitoring System sends drivers a text message with information about their tire pressure. It can measure pressure on vehicles traveling up to 15 mph and is connected to a camera that recognizes number plates. As stated on The Ray’s site, “Simply drive over the monitor to get your text!”
A solar paved highway can handle all types of traffic while providing renewable energy in the form of electricity. A pilot site by Wattway debuted in France and the U.S. followed with a 50-square meter-installation of solar paving panels. Wattway can be applied existing roads, so it can be used to retrofit highways. It has the potential to feed electricity into the grid, which can be used for everything from street lighting to electric vehicle charging.
The Ray’s innovations go beyond the road itself. The land around the interstate, usually used by drivers who need to pull over, can serve other functions without affecting its primary purpose. Kernza plants have been installed along The Ray to test the feasibility of farming along the highway. These wheat grasses have deep roots that “enrich the soil, retain clean water, and sequester carbon.” Wheat straw is finding more use in our everyday products, such as diapers, paper towels, and toilet paper.
Bioswales are drainage ditches filled with vegetation or compost and are designed to trap pollutants (such as heavy metals, rubber, and oil) and slow water movement during wet weather. As a positive side effect, the plants used in the bioswales add beauty to the highway.
“We’re starting a movement to make The Ray a net-zero highway,” the group states on its website. “Specifically, our vision for the future includes improving the safety, beauty, and ecology of our 18-mile stretch of I-85.”